For close to a half hour, all I could see for what seemed like hundreds of miles around was desert, and then I drove over a little ridge, and from the desert arose a distant civilization. All of the stories I’d heard about Las Vegas over the years, and somehow I had never been there. While Debra was a little girl, we had tried to take her along on all our vacations, and Alan didn’t think Vegas would be appropriate. He was probably right, though these days the developers were making more of an effort to clean things up, make it a family-friendly destination, like an amusement park that just happened to have gambling, booze, and hookers.
Thirty minute wait from this spot to ‘round-the-world. You must be this tall to ride me.
The city shimmered in the sun as I approached, and not a single building held its shape for more than a few seconds at a time. My hair flew next to the open window, and not for the first time since I started this journey, I wished for a convertible. Then I wondered if any part of the country would capture my interest long enough to stay somewhere for longer than a month or so, or if I would just keep moving. I wouldn’t know until I knew, I supposed, and that was the way I had always hoped my life would be – uncertainty, freedom, enough stupidity to make all my own mistakes, and enough space around me to get the hell away from them.
It was a Wednesday, so I didn’t expect to have too much trouble finding a room, and I hadn’t called ahead to make a reservation. I drove past the airport and headed for the Strip, where all the monstrous resort-casinos were going up, and I laughed when I saw the Statue of Liberty. The New York, New York Hotel and Casino, said the sign. Perfect, I thought: home away from home. There stood the Empire State Building, and the Brooklyn Bridge, too, familiar and deeply strange at the same time. I pulled into the parking garage, and bringing only my suitcase and my purse with me, I headed for the lobby.
There were plenty of rooms after all. “And how long will you be staying with us?” asked the woman at the front desk, as she took an imprint of my credit card. Her nametag identified her as Patrice, from Hilo, Hawaii.
“I don’t know,” I smiled. “At least a few days, I think, but I hope it’s all right for me to stay longer if things go in that direction.”
With barely a glance at her computer screen, she nodded. “Of course. Enjoy your visit.”
I went upstairs to settle in and take a shower. I arrived to find a chambermaid’s cart outside my room, and the door propped open. I double-checked the hand-written room number on the key-card holder; this was the right room. I knocked. “Hello?” The lights were on, but nobody answered, so I went on in. Nobody. I knocked on the closed bathroom door, and again hearing no answer, I opened it.
Right after I saw the clothing folded neatly on the toilet, I saw the woman in the bathtub, and I started to shake. She had a peaceful look on her face, but she was nearly submerged in blood-red water. I wanted to scream, but when I opened my mouth nothing happened. After a few seconds, I went to the nightstand and called down to the front desk, and managed to squeak out some words about what I had found. Then I returned to the bathroom and sat down on the toilet, on top of what I now gathered was a chambermaid’s uniform, and I waited, crying.
First came the doctor, who shooed me from the bathroom – then hotel security, followed by the manager, and eventually two police officers. I told my brief part of the story each time, watching from my seat on the edge of a brand-new, colorful hotel bedspread as people came and went, talking on their hand-held radios. Finally they wheeled her out in a body bag. The manager sat gingerly beside me on the bed, a bellman quietly waiting next to my suitcase, at a respectful distance.
“Miss Brody, I can’t tell you how sorry I am for what you’ve been through this afternoon. We’ve arranged for another room for you, of course. Lance here will accompany you. My name is Trevor” – from Ypsilanti, Michigan, I read – “and if you need anything at all during your stay, please don’t hesitate to call me.” I nodded and thanked him, and he took my elbow as I stood to follow Lance, who was from Henderson, Nevada.
We rode the elevator in silence to a much higher floor. Lance unlocked the door, then handed me the key card as he swept us both into the room. I stopped, my mouth open.
“There must be some mistake; I had a small room with a couple of double beds.” The entryway to this room was as big as the entire room that we had just left. I was looking at a panoramic view of the Las Vegas Strip through floor-to-ceiling windows, at the other end of a fully furnished living room, with a kitchen and a fully stocked bar to one side. Hallways led off in either direction.
“No mistake, ma’am. I was instructed to bring you to this suite and make sure you were comfortable, and also to tell you that your stay with us here at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino will be at no charge.” My mouth fell open again.
“But – but I told the desk clerk I don’t know when I’m leaving. I have an open-ended stay. They can’t possibly mean…” My heart pounded, and I started digging through my purse, wondering if I had enough cash in my wallet to tip this man properly.
“I wouldn’t know, ma’am. If you have any questions about the arrangement, I would suggest you inquire of the manager. But I’m telling you exactly what they told me.” He disappeared down one of the hallways with my suitcase, and when he returned, he gave me a brief rundown of the amenities. “If you need anything at all, ma’am, please feel free to ask for me by name.” I gave him a five-dollar bill, and he nodded and turned to leave.
He stopped and turned back to face me. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Did you know her?”
“No, ma’am, I didn’t.”
“Nobody would tell me anything about her, or why she would do that.”
He nodded. “I expect they’re trying to figure that out themselves, and probably trying to locate her family.”
“Is there anything else I can do for you, ma’am?”
I shook my head, and this time he made it out the door. For a long moment I stood, watching the door, half expecting someone else to join me and explain the last hour and a half to me. The quiet of the enormous room was shattered momentarily by the sound of a roller coaster roaring by, and I realized I was still shaking.
Then I remembered the fully stocked bar. I threw my purse on the bar, and surveyed the selection. I poured myself a tall glass of Bailey’s Irish Cream on the rocks, and stared at it for a minute. Then I poured a shot of Jack Daniel’s, downed it quickly, and shivered. Taking the Bailey’s with me, I sat down on a large, comfortable leather sofa in the living room, and stared out the windows.
Welcome to Las Vegas.